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LIGHTNING PHOTOS: They're off! on two wheels

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The starter might have said "Riders, start your quads and calves" today as more than 300 riders pushed off from Blue Ridge Community College and turned north into the apple country for the second annual Tour d'Apple bicycle ride.

At exactly 8 o'clock, a starter counted down from 10 to zero and the riders were off — a flock wearing biking shorts and brightly colored jerseys, some on bicycles that cost as much as a good used car.
"It's absolutely beautiful weather and a good turnout," said Tiffany Ervin, immediate past president of the Four Seasons Rotary Club, which sponsors the event.
Riders set out on routes that offered loops of 24.6, 46.8, 66 and 100.5 miles traveling as far north as Bearwallow Mountain and as far south as Green River Road.
Last year 222 riders participated in the inaugural event; this year with last-minute signups registration hovered around 300, said Gene Carr, another past president.
"We've had 60 or so today," he said.
Sponsored by Park Ridge Health, the Tour d'Apple has become the main fundraiser for the Four Seasons Rotary Club.
"We expect this will be our signature project," Carr said. "We realized particularly in conjunction with the Apple Festival we didn't have any event. We'd sell sno-cones on Main Street and make $300 for a lot of work. We've had great sponsors."
Rotary clubs in Tryon and Pisgah Forest held bike ride fundraisers. "We said, why not?"

For some riders, today really will be Labor Day. The fittest among them will pedal the 100-mile Honey Crisp Unbelievable Century, which features 8,481 miles of ascent in topping Sugarloaf Mountain, Bearwallow Mountain, Terry's Gap, Pinnacle Mountain and Jump Off Rock. Riders had several opportunities to peel off from longer routes to shorter ones.

"Last year I was up at Jones Gap Church and after riding up that hill some of them didn't want to go all the way to Laurel Park (and Jump Off Rock)," Carr said.

Among the riders were kids from the Path Finders, the youth group of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They were in shape. A team of seven teenagers and four adults rode 830 miles from Asheville to Osh Kosh, Wisc., where they participated in the Forever Faithful Path Finders Camporee.

Bob Shepard's two boys Tre, 16, and Jared, 13, had already pedaled off for long rides. Shepard, who directs the Tryon Mountain Troopers Path Finders at Tryon Seventh Day Adventist Church, served as cook for the two-week trip to Wisconsin, towing a chuck wagon and fixing meals at churches and schools where the riders spent the night.
Proceeds from the event fund the morning Rotary Club's charitable programs including scholarships, Special Needs Sports, school library books, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and a Head Start Christmas program.
"Blue Ridge Community College has an emergency fund for a student whose car breaks down — something like that," Carr said. "It's actually a loan but we have fully funded that every year." The club also funds the Killian Scholarship, named for BRCC founding president Bill Killian.
Besides Park Ridge, other sponsors were Hunter Subaru, Ingles, Sycamore Cycles, Chick-Fil-A, the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club, Carmichael Training Systems and Blue Sky MD.